Hope Will Guide You: Just Breathe

by Jessicca GonzalezOctober 21, 2019View more posts from Jessicca Gonzalez

In 2017, just after my 28th birthday, I felt a lump in my left breast while I was in the shower. I wasn’t doing a self-exam or anything, I just so happened to feel it.

I told my mom about it and that I didn’t think anything of it, because it was around “that time of the month” and lumps and bumps happen, so I ignored it.

A few weeks later while I was in my yoga class, I was in “corpse” pose, and I lifted my arms to stretch, and I was able to feel the lump without having to touch it. At that point I thought, “Well, that’s odd”, and I kept going in class. After class, I got in my car and the radio turned on with a commercial saying, “Remember, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month!” And I thought to myself, “Huh, alright!” and started to drive home.

Once I got home, my family was there. My dad likes to watch the news, so of course the news channel was on, and as soon as I sat down, a news segment starts, and the news anchor says, “Come on down and get your free mammogram at Citadel Outlets, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month!”

That’s when my mom yelled out, “Did you call the doctor yet?”

I was like “I’m calling right now!” I couldn’t ignore it anymore — there were way too many signs telling me to get it checked out. Later that day, my mom and I went to Citadel to see if I could get a mammogram. As soon as I turned in the forms, the ladies at the table looked at each other and said, “You can’t get one because you’re too young, and women your age don’t get cancer”.

I was so pissed; I told them, “I have a lump in my breast. There are nine-year-old’s with breast cancer -how can you say that!” I made my appointment to see my primary physician the following week.

My physician examined me and said, “Yup there’s a lump in there!”

I was like, “Well no shit, that’s why I’m here! I need a mammogram done.” She said I needed to get an ultrasound before the mammogram. I went in the following week on a Monday for my ultrasound.

While I got my ultrasound, we found out that not only did I have 1 mass, but I had 2 separate masses! The technician turned on a thermo scanner and it showed that there was a blood supply going to both masses.

That’s when I asked, “Is that something to worry about?”

He responded “Well, I’m not a fan, but just to be sure, I’m going to schedule you for a biopsy to get some samples – come back on Wednesday for your appointment”.

I was in my last semester at Fullerton College, and I was taking a health class on Tuesdays while all of this was happening, and of course what was the subject that week? That’s right, cancer! What did I learn? That cancer feeds off the body, so that’s when I — of course – started thinking, “Yup! I have cancer…Okay, prepare for the worst”.

I went the next day, and had my samples taken. I waited the next day for the dreaded phone call.

I was at work that Thursday when I got the call that changed my life. I was backstage (I was working for Disneyland at the time), listening to the doctor asking me questions about how I was doing blah, blah…I ended up cutting her off and said, “It’s cancer isn’t it?”

That caught her off guard and she fumbled the words, “Unfortunately, your samples did come back positive for cancer cells”.

I was calm and responded, “Ok so what’s next? What stage am I at? What do I have to do next?”

All she said was, “Come in tomorrow so we can go over some things.”

I was taking this call in a shed backstage, and I closed the door and screamed; I couldn’t hold it back. So many things were going through my head, but the biggest question was, “How do you tell a mom that her first born daughter has cancer? I went home early and found my mom folding laundry when she asked me what was I doing home so early. I didn’t even say, “Hi”, it just came out like word vomit. “I have cancer!”

She responded with a shocked and soft, “What?”

“I have cancer!” I said.

I immediately poured myself and my mom a shot of tequila, and then another, and then another! Good thing I was off work the next day! Before I knew I had cancer, I knew I didn’t want to go through treatments; I knew I didn’t want this to break me down. I saw a good friend go through treatments for a different kind of cancer and I saw what it did to her– I didn’t want my family to see me go through that.

My dad and sister came home as soon as my mom called them saying we needed to talk. I told them the same thing I told my mom. “I have cancer”. My dad was asking me questions I didn’t have answers to. I just said, “Cut it off and get me a new one!”

My dad and I had a big argument about that. He thought it was too extreme. I also told them I didn’t want to go through treatments; I didn’t want to do chemo. So, I thought that by cutting off my left breast and getting a new one, it would save me from doing it.

I went the next day to see my oncologist and talk about my options. I remember I didn’t cry about any of it. I didn’t really have time to. It was appointment after appointment. I didn’t have time to process and digest any of it. I just lived through it with a sense of numbness. I wasn’t upset, mad or hurt about any of it.

After talking to the oncologist and the surgeons, I still came to the decision of cut it off and get a new one.

After everything, I still had more to decide like do I freeze my eggs? How do you make a decision about something that doesn’t exist?

A lot of decisions seemed like they were being made for me. If I tested positive for specific genes, then I had no choice — both breast and my uterus would have to be removed.

Luckily, I tested negative, but I couldn’t afford the consultation appointment to freeze my eggs, so that decision was made for me. During my mastectomy surgery, if my lymph nodes tested positive for cancer, then that meant my cancer had spread and I had no choice — I was going to need to do radiation. I still didn’t want to do chemo but after looking at my family, I realized I needed to do it for them. I wasn’t going to go through treatments for myself, I was going to go through this because parents should not be burying their children.

I finally told my parents I was going to do it for them. They had so many expressions on their faces…fear, shock, relief! After my mastectomy surgery, I found out that the surgeon removed all 16 lymph nodes, and that my cancer had spread to my primary and secondary nodes, and the other 14 tested negative, but they were removed as a precaution and that meant radiation treatments.

I consider myself lucky because I went through all of my chemo treatments with no major side effects besides the feeling of nausea (I never actually got sick just a constant stomach-turning feeling) and losing my hair.

I’ll be honest, nothing prepares you for the day you lose your hair. I didn’t want it to be a huge shock, so I had a head shaving party where all of my family and friends came to help me cut off my hair to a short buzzcut. That hairstyle lasted about a week. I remember telling my mom a week after the party that I thought it was time to shave it completely off. She said, “No, I think you’re okay still”, so I jumped in the shower and ran the water and my hands through my hair. I looked down and saw clumps of hair. I freaked out and opened the door to my sister’s room and told her, “Get mom!”

Jessicca and Mom hugging

She came running into the bathroom and saw my hands. I started to panic on the inside and rushed to get as much hair off as possible.

All of my energy left my body and I was exhausted. I got out of the shower and finally saw myself in the mirror, I told my mom, “I am not okay!” I remember looking at myself and thinking, “I now look like a cancer patient! I can’t hide this!”

No matter how much you plan nothing prepares you for it. It shatters you seeing yourself like that.

My mom called my dad and said, “You need to come home right now.”

My dad came home and asked what was going on and he saw me sitting in the living room. He looked at me and I asked him, “Dad am I going to be okay?”

He put his hand on my head and said, “Yeah you’re going to be fine, it’s just like a really bad cold!” We looked at each other and we both laughed! That’s how I got through this, by laughing at it! And hope, lots of hope!

I put a smile on my face and hid what I was feeling when I had visitors to make sure they didn’t get upset. I made jokes and poked fun of the situation, because if you can’t laugh during the worst time of your life, then you might as well be dead.

I wasn’t going to let my family and friends see me broken!

After months of chemotherapy, on June 8, 2018, I celebrated my last chemo session. I was exhausted, but I saw the proud look on my mom’s face, and I knew that it was all worth it. I only got about two weeks to relax after that last chemo treatment before I started my radiation treatments on July 18, 2018.

Jessicca in the hospital

Radiation was something entirely different from chemo. These treatments would go by quickly, but the results were something I was not expecting. I started to notice my skin darkening, and then my skin started to peel. This is when wearing clothes and sleeping was becoming a problem. My skin from my underarm was peeling off in large portions, and my skin was raw. It was uncomfortable and I had to find a way to cover myself without wearing a bra to support my right breast.

It was a challenge, and I started to use shawls and swimsuit covers to hide the fact that I wasn’t wearing a bra, as well as covering my skin from the sun. I couldn’t sleep because of the discomfort and I was given a silk type scarf that I was able to tie around my shoulder to create a barrier between my arm and underarm so the skin wouldn’t rub on itself. This went on every day until my last radiation treatment, which was on September 4, 2018.

I rang the bell that signifies the end of the worst part of my cancer journey. Hearing that sweet ring made me cry tears of joy. “I did it!” I cried out and again seeing my mom’s face made it all worthwhile.

After all of my chemo and radiation treatments, I got my final scans, and everything was coming to an end.

On October 10, 2018, my results were in and they came back clear. I was finally put in remission after a year of treatments and surgery.

It’s been almost one year since I was put in remission and I am still grieving this chapter of my life.

Everything happened so fast at the beginning that I never really had the chance to process and digest everything that I went through. I had put off going to college for two years so I could beat cancer. This was not something I wanted to do, considering I didn’t listen to my doctor when I was first diagnosed when he told me, “You can’t go back to school right now; we need to take care of this first!” I didn’t listen, and I went back to school the next day, and explained to my professors my situation. I was able to do my schoolwork from home and I completed my last semester of community college.

I received my Associates Degree in the Fall of 2017, before I had my mastectomy surgery and before this journey started. This is when I knew I had to put off going to the university of my dreams…the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Oahu.

After I received word that my scans were clear, I went home and immediately submitted my application for college. It took a short couple of weeks to hear back from the school…I was accepted as a full-time student starting in the Fall of 2019! I was finally able to breathe! I was finally able to start my new life!

Cancer is always going to be something I think about on a daily basis. I will always have a constant worry of, “What if it comes back?”, but the only thing that keeps me from thinking those dark thoughts is hope.

I am currently living in Oahu, exploring my options in my education, and it’s all because I held on to hope to get me through this journey. I would always — and still — tell myself, my family, and friends, that hope is a powerful thing. Just remember, “Hope will guide you; just breathe.”

:-)